When we hear the word “yoga,” we often imagine really flexible Yogi's and Yogini’s twisting into all sorts of postures, but is that what yoga really is? The word “yoga” actually means “to yoke,” as in to join or unite. It refers to the joining or uniting of our individual self with the universal Self. The “universal Self” can also be thought of as consciousness or the energy that flows through all things. So, yoga is the union of our individual self with that cosmic consciousness.
The traditional texts of Hatha Yoga describe an eight-limbed path to yoga. The physical postures are just one of those eight limbs; they are just one of the many other tools available to help us achieve a state of yoga. So yoga isn’t just something that we practice, but it is actually a state of being. Yoga is a state of oneness and interconnectedness. The postures, as well as the other limbs on the eight-limbed path, are all just tools to help us to achieve that state of oneness.
Where exactly do the postures fit into this path? Well, the postures are the third of the eight limbs and is perhaps one of the most approachable steps in walking towards that path of oneness. Eastern philosophy describes that the physical body holds onto many emotions and memories. When we are caught up in the busyness of our day-to-day lives, we don't allow our body to process and release these emotions and memories. As a result, they get stuck in the body and often present themselves as pain, discomfort, stiffness, or tension. By starting our path with physical postures, we allow those emotions and memories to get unstuck. We allow for smoother flow of energy within our body as the tension and stiffness is released. As we move our bodies through the physical practice, we allow our body to ease into itself. We allow our body the space to release and let go of things that we may not even know we are holding onto. This is one of the reasons we feel so good after yoga practice!
A second reason that yoga postures are a great starting point is because it gives us practice in cultivating greater awareness. Achieving yoga, or a state of union, requires great awareness. It is far easier to begin with cultivating awareness of the physical body before moving onto the more subtle awareness practices of the mind and breath, which are also on the eight-limbed path.
I hope you've enjoyed this brief introduction into the true meaning of yoga. Please let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below!
Sending you so much peace and love on your journey!